The privacy groups claim that Facebook’s facial-recognition features are compiling users’ biometric data without their expressed consent.
Is Facebook learning too much about what people look like? Several privacy groups think so. On Friday, they called on the FTC to investigate Facebook’s facial-recognition technology over possible privacy abuses.
“The scanning of facial images without express, affirmative consent is unlawful and must be enjoined,” according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center and a coalition of consumer advocate groups.
Their formal complaint with the FTC accuses Facebook of automatically enlisting most users into the facial scanning. It also questions whether the social networking service is handing the biometric data off to third-party groups.
Since 2010, Facebook has been using the technology to help people tag photos of themselves and their friends, but not without controversy. The company’s systems work by creating a digital template of your face from your photos, so that Facebook can match your appearance across posted images.
As a result, the service can now tell you when a picture carrying your face pops up on Facebook. It can also stop bad actors from impersonating your identity.
But the technology has some creepy potential, too. Imagine advertisers or governments using the facial data to ID and profile you. So far, Facebook’s hasn’t clearly stated whether any of this data is entering the hands of third-party developers, the privacy groups said in Friday’s complaint. But the Cambridge Analytica data leak underscores the potential for abuse. On Wednesday, Facebook said as many as 87 million users may have had their personal data collected by the UK political consultancy.
Facebook hasn’t publicly responded to Friday’s complaint. The social networking service does let you shut off of the facial-recognition feature. However, the privacy groups claim that most Facebook users are automatically enrolled in the system, while the opt-out process is not clear or prominent.
Friday’s complaint said the broad facial scanning violates a 2011 settlement Facebook made with the FTC to better protect users’ privacy. The complaint goes on to say that federal investigators should demand Facebook revamp its biometric data policies and delete any facial templates that were wrongfully obtained.
On Friday, the FTC would only confirm it had received the complaint. The commission is already investigating Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data leak.